As much as I enjoyed my Turkey holiday adventure, I have to admit that the first 24 hours after my arrival was something else. I took the MAS Golden Holiday package and that included airport pick-up. The driver who met me at the Ataturk International Airport was ‘mute’. A frail looking man, he kept his right hand in his pocket. He did not smile and did not greet me. In fact, he didn’t speak a single word to me, not even a Merhaba.
MAS list of accommodation does not include anything appealing in the old city part of Istanbul. I finally decided on the four-star plus Madison Hotel in Taksim, the modern district. The main reason was because I was afraid of being stuck indoor due to heavy snow and the place has a Hamam. Of course, that didn’t matter because snow only arrived much later this year. Also, the Hamam and recreational facilities were unisex, so they were useless to me.
The pick-up van had to pass by a security gate to enter the area. Madison checking-in was really efficient. I remember its porter practically jumping out of the door and sliding my luggage into the lobby as soon as the van stopped. Within 3 minutes, registration was completed and he was already carrying my luggage to the room. I found out that the room heater was great. I didn’t even have to wear socks when I slept at night.
The neighbourhood was filled by modern dining outlets, which made me long for the day I’d move to another hotel in a more authentic area. The first thing that struck my mine within the first hour I was in the country was how European it was (and how totally non-Middle Eastern).
After leaving my things in the room, I went down for breakfast. The buffet spread was tempting. I gave my room number to the waitress but she appeared blur. The proud looking captain quickly approached and ask if I needed assistance. After helping myself to the huge selection of breads, cheese, fruits, local soup and hard-boiled eggs, I noticed something. I was ‘underdressed’ in my casual blouse and lazy blue jeans. The guests were either formally or fashionably dressed. They either had business suits or designer jeans with elegant accessories.
Madison seemed like an expensive hotel, MAS must have gotten a really special rate. And guests didn’t have to identify themselves, they just go and eat. But then again, in Kuala Lumpur, you can dine in jeans at a five-star hotel and not look out of place. And I also learned that asking whether the food was ‘halal’ was kind of insulting to the Captain. That was another person who was allergic to smile.
The hamam was not yet opened so at 10.30am, I went back to my room. I had booked a boat ride tour with the New Deal Travel Agency at 1.00pm. There was plenty of time. I wasn’t happy with twin beds, but they turned out to be useful. The spare bed served for me to lay the layers of clothes I was wearing for the day. When my mother did not reply my sms, I called her. After that I set my alarm clock and lied down for 2 hours.
I contemplated going for lunch at noon when my phone rang. There was a female voice. She was calling from the hotel lobby. She asked if I had booked a boat ride at 1.00pm. I said yes. She then spoke in a tensed and loud voice that I had 1 minute to get myself down there. I asked what time it was – she said 1.10pm. Unfortunately, I had set my clock 1 hour behind the local time. But then, the man I had spoken to earlier said between 1.00 to 1.15 pm, depending on the traffic. It didn’t sound like a time-sensitive affair to me.
I quickly jumped out of the bed. I had already paid for the trip and my main concern was not to lose my money. I was still kind of disoriented when I put on the layers of clothes. I never had to wear so many pieces before. As I was grabbing my waist couch, my phone rang again. Gosh, the woman was uncontrol-able. After locking the door, I looked down to make sure that I had a pair of pants on top of the my thermal underwear. It was my first winter. I was worry about feeling cold.
When I got down to the lobby, the woman was standing in front of the door. I quickly apologised and told her I got the time wrong. I must have been really ‘off’ because normally if someone had scolded me, I would fire back. The 2 hotel receptionists stood there with their mouth open, obviously she had made a lot of fuss. It turned out that she wasn’t even the tour guide, just the pick-up woman. She even had the nerve to try to sell me more tours. What pissed me off was that after my tour group got onto the boat, we had to wait for more than 20 minutes for the other tour groups to come and fill up the boat. After that, the guide gave us 15 minutes free time to explore the spice bazaar. Guess what I did? I bought a cheese bread and sat at a nearby bus stop to eat it. Yeah, that was my lunch on the first day of my adventure.
Later that evening, I had booked a cultural show dinner with belly dancing with the same travel agent. The man told me the pick-up was at 8.00pm. After an hour cat-nap, I got dressed and rushed down. After waiting for a while, I asked the receptionist to call the agent to check. He did and they said 5 more minutes. He said normally pick-up is at 8.30pm, the show only starts at 9.00pm and the restaurant was nearby. If they were late, they should call. They might charge 10Euro less than the hotel, but they weren’t even there.
They bus didn’t turn up until 9.05pm. The guide told me the traffic was bad. What infuriated me was that the restaurant was only 5 minutes away from my hotel. I could have gone there on my own.
I was really tired by then. I was put at a small table on my own. The over-eager waiter irritated the hell out of me. He asked too may questions about the food, if I understood the show, etc. The problem was that he liked to speak when the show was on and music was loud. So, he had to lean close to my side and I had to put up with his bad breath. And I hated to be interupted. Later on he said if I wish, I could give him a tip. He left the bill folder on my table. I didn’t leave a single coin.
That evening wasn’t memorable. I only snapped one photo, and that was of the appetiser. LOL! Well, the cameraman did take a photo of me with a belly dancer but I couldn’t remember where I put it.
Merhaba, that was my welcome to Istanbul.
Originally written for Hazia’s blog